Fearless 5K raises awareness to help eliminate sexual violence in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - An annual 5K run was held in Salt Lake City to help raise awareness about the devastating effects of sexual assault and raise funds to help combat the violence.

The Fearless 5K, held Saturday morning at Memory Grove, helps to raise critical funds to support the life changing work of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"It serves as a source of inspiration and hope for advocates and survivors of sexual assault alike," said Michelle Worthen, a board member for UCASA.

"The most important thing for people to remember is to start believing them. If somebody comes to you and tells you that they've been sexually assaulted, you need to believe them. Let the law enforcement and the courts do their due diligence to find out what happened."

This is the third year for the Fearless 5K where survivors of sexual assault and their supporters show up in hopes to help raise funds to support UCASA and their mission.

This piece originally appeared on good4utah.com. Click here to read the original article. 

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Sexual violence victims coerced into crime need help, not punishment

The 2017 legislative session was arguably one of the most successful ever for advocates hoping to end sexual violence in our community. Legislation was passed mandating the submission and testing of sexual assault kits,tougher penalties for strangulation were enacted, and campus-based advocates will now be confidential resources for victims because of legislation that passed.

Of all the bills that passed and enacted one, of the most important — albeit unsung — pieces of legislation, House Bill 274, will make a remarkable difference in the lives of victims of sexual violence, sexual exploitation, and other crimes. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero of Salt Lake City and Sen. Wayne Harper allows for prosecutors and law enforcement to utilize a process known as vacatur to support victims of sexual violence who were forced, coerced, or defrauded into certain nonviolent crimes.

The case of Lynnsie Reddish and Terrance Chavez Jones highlights the critical need for this legislation, reinforcing many important community values and norms. One fact is simple — if coercion, force, or fraud are used to push a person to engage in a particular behavior or to act in a particular way — then that action by its very nature cannot be considered consensual. Sexual violence at its root is a crime of power and control.

Sexual violence manifests itself in a variety of ways throughout our community, but in this particular case it went reportedly far beyond a single act of exploitation. According to the Standard-Examiner, “One victim told authorities she worked as an ‘escort’ for Reddish for a year and a half. She said Reddish posted ads online and the money she earned from intercourse with clients went to Reddish in exchange for heroin. She described an incident on Jan. 18, 2017, in which both Reddish and Jones allegedly punched her, cut off her hair, beat her with a belt and caused a cut on her head that required eight staples, according to the court documents.”

Perpetrators use a person’s fear, hesitation or vulnerabilities to their advantage and seek to isolate, minimize, deny, and control the feelings or needs of the person they are targeting. In this particular case, the Standard reported, “Four victims told a special agent with the attorney general’s office how the couple used violence, fear and drug addiction to coerce them into performing sexual acts with clients.”

Under the provisions of House Bill 274, a person who has lost their autonomy or free will, or who has been the victim of force, coercion or fraud, can be given justice through vacatur. To vacate a charge means, at its core, that no crime has occurred. It is different than an expungement because it is a firm recognition by our community that a person is not a criminal if they commit a crime while being victimized through human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or any other means of control.

Prosecutors say the four women in this case were victimized, humiliated and defrauded. Fear and violence were reportedly used to extract a very particular behavior from them and in the end the perpetrators got what they wanted — a financial payout. This case is a particularly important one for understanding and responding to sexual violence.

As professional advocates for victims of sexual violence, we often work with victims and survivors who have made decisions others may not approve of; they may have engaged in activities that others find offensive or downright wrong. At the end of the day, though, we have a responsibility to stamp out sexual violence in all of its forms, whether it occurs in a dorm room at a college or to a person who works as a commercial sex worker or escort.

Our community is fundamentally better than to engage in victim-blaming. No person who has ever experienced sexual violence deserves it. Sexual violence is not a punishment or a repercussion for any behavior or action. If a loved one chose to ride a bike to work instead of riding the bus, we wouldn’t then say they deserved to be killed by a drunk driver for being on a bike instead of a bus.

The same logic should apply to all victims of crime, and that is why House Bill 274 is such a critical piece of our tool kit against sexual violence.

Turner C. Bitton is the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and lives in Ogden with his husband and two dogs. The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault works to improve the systemic response to victims of sexual violence and to prevent it altogether. Learn more at UCASA.org.

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United We Stand (UP!), Sexual Assault Awareness 5K and Breathe Utah

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) hosts the 2017 Fearless 5K recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Stunning statistics show that one in eight women, and one in 50 men, will be raped in Utah in their lifetimes. In its third year, the 5K raises critical funds to support the life-changing work of UCASA and serves as a source of inspiration and hope for advocates and survivors of sexual assault. If you care about ending sexual violence, you can run the 5K in-person or virtually. Memory Grove Park, 300 North Canyon Road, 801-746-0404, Saturday, May 6, 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m., $35, ucasa.org

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Provo officer helps sexual assault victims, receives award

PROVO - A Provo Police Department employee will be receiving a major award this Friday when she's recognized for her work to help victims of sexual assault.

"It's a huge honor," said Kortney Hughes, Victim's Service Coordinator for Provo PD. "But it's not an award I've earned on my own."

Hughes credits her staff for helping to push for Federal grants to fund a handful of measures that will make preserving and testing sexual assault evidence. After attending a yearly training conference in 2015, Hughes learned that thousands of rape kits go untested across the country. In many cases, she says the kits were never tested because the crime was solved and the test was deemed an unnecessary and expensive move.

"We didn't know then what we know now," Hughes said. She explains that now DNA can link suspects to crimes committed in other states as well.

After attending the training, Hughes came back to the Provo Police Department and was instrumental in finding 300 untested rape kits and pushing them through for processing, including sending thirty of them out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for higher testing.

What Hughes may be most proud of, however, is her latest accomplishment. Hughes wrote a grant seeking nearly a half a million dollars in funding to allow rape victims to go to any emergency room in the county for testing after an assault. In the past, she said victims would have to go to a specific family clinic which wasn't open 24 hours.

"We have a team of nurses in training right now that will have a 45 minutes response time and perform that exam right there so the victims no longer have to wait to shower or eat or to heal,” a proud Hughes said.

"After reading several nominations, it became very clear that sh was very deserving of this award," beamed Turner Bitton, Executive Director for Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. UCASA will present awards to eight people in the state at a dinner later in the week. He says one in three Utah women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

He said Hughes received one of the most nomination totals of anyone in the state for her persistence and accomplishments.

"The overwhelming sentiment is that she took the victim advocacy program down at Provo Police Department to new heights.”

This piece originally appeared on FOX 13, Salt Lake City. Click here to read the original article.

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Utah Valley Everyday Hero: Provo police victims advocate a force for good, pushes rape kit testing

5908ec53269be.image.jpgMany people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.

When Kortney Hughes attended the Conference on Crimes Against Women in 2014, she went in believing sexual assault kits were primarily used when a suspect’s identity was not known.

“When we were collecting these kits, we didn’t know any better,” she said. “That evidence used only used to help identify someone.”

But after attending the conference and hearing from a particular keynote speaker, Hughes reevaluated her understanding of rape kits and made it her goal to test all untested rape kits submitted to the Provo Police Department.

Her tenacious attitude, compassion towards victims of sexual assault and leadership with victims services earned her the recognition as law enforcement advocate of the year from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“Kortney has taken the Provo Police Department victims advocate program to new levels that we haven’t seen before,” said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition against Sexual Assault. “What she has done is a model for the whole state.”

Hughes has been with the Provo Police Department for 20 years, the four most recent with the victims services program. She and the other advocates are available around the clock to help any victim of a major crime, including sexual assault.

“They’re on call 24/7 to assist and help these victims—help them heal, help them move forward and provide them with resources,” she said.

But not only is Hughes pulling extra hours, she has been a tremendous force in testing backlogged rape kits across the state.

Shortly after attending the 2014 conference, state services also began moving forward to test backlogged rape kits. A special committee was formed in 2014, which Hughes frequently contributed to, to decide how to ensure the highest priority kits were tested first.

Rape kit testing not only identifies the suspect, but it also confirms other information, such as suspects wanted in other parts of the country.

“Law enforcement agencies have a significant number of backlogged kits mostly due to resources and a whole host of other issues,” Bitton said.

In fact, in September 2015, Provo police officers reported that a newly tested 7-year-old rape kit helped police find a new suspect in a sexual assault.

Since the need has been addressed and better understood, more than 3,000 backlogged rape kits have either been tested or submitted at the Utah Crime Lab, 200 of which were submitted from the Provo Police Department.

Hughes even helped secure a federal grant from the National Institute of Justice to have their top 30 high-priority kits tested.

“The department has been very supportive,” Hughes said. “This is something they’ve entrusted me with, to run the victim services division and make sure our community is getting the best possible service when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault.”

But Hughes modestly said it’s “silly” to recognize her alone for the award when she feels it’s her team around her that really makes the difference.

“It just feels silly that it’s singling me out for something when there are so many boots on the ground, out there making such a difference every day,” she said. “I have an amazing staff of advocates that at the drop of a hat are out the door. … I feel like this is for all of them.”

The support backing Hughes’s nomination was overwhelming, Bitton said. Of the eight individuals who were awarded Sexual Assault Awareness Month awards, she received the second largest number of votes — a credit to her willingness to act as a force for good for the victims she serves.

“She has worked both internally within the system, and externally outside of the system to bring together stakeholders of all different backgrounds to serve victims with excellence,” Bitton said.

Hughes said this award shows that the Provo Police Department is focused on victims and their safety.

“We’re here. There are a lot of people out there that want to help,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that have resources that you can talk to. … Let us help you.”

Nine other honorable mentions were also recognized, one of whom was Kevin J Worthen, president of Brigham Young University.

Bitton said he’s been touched by how eagerly BYU is making changes after it came to light that many were concerned about how BYU responded and reacted to students’ reports of sexual assault. Bitton said Worthen has undertaken a tremendous task by reshaping its Title IX and Honor Code offices, but is doing so well.

“They’ve faced a lot of criticism but to his credit, they have chosen to go down a very difficult path and create good, evidence victim’s based services on campus,” Bitton said. “That is no small undertaking for any campus, let alone a private institution that is religious-based.”

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A SAFE action plan may help prevent sexual assaults by strangers

Salt Lake City — (KUTV) After a woman reported to police that she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in her vehicle in Sandy, Utah, experts say it could help if you prepare an action plan before the attack.

Advocates for sexual assault victims say this kind of attack is rare, but there are still steps that can be taken to try to decrease the chances of being victimized.

Turner Bitton with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault says only seven percent of sex crimes are committed by strangers. Typically, those committing such a crime are likely to be repeat offenders.

Experts say to think S-A-F-E.

S -- SECURE your car and home. Carry a flashlight in your car as a weapon and lock your doors at all times.

A -- AVOID unsafe places and people. Avoid walking alone or in the dark.

F -- FLEE if you are attacked. Run and scream and get away if you can. 

E -- ENGAGE your attacker if you can't get away. Be firm and try to think and talk yoru way out of it and fight. Use your keys or hair spray or anything to get away.

Bitton also said that even if you don't do these things, it doesn't mean you deserve to be victimized.

"If this happens to you, this is not your fault. Nobody is to blame in this circumstance except for the perpetrator," Bitton said.

This piece originally appeared on KUTV.com. Click here to read the original article.

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Safe@Weber program wins award from Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault

OGDEN — Weber State University’s Safe@Weber program is receiving an award from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The Sexual Assault Awareness Month Program Partner of the Year award will be presented to Safe@Weber at a ceremony April 28 in Salt Lake City.

Several other SAAM awards will be presented to people such as Kortney Hughes of the Provo Police Department, Chrissandra Murphy of Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and Zakia Richardson of Utah Legal Services.

UCASA Excutive Director Turner Bitton said Weber State's program was selected because it has an LGBTQ-specific sexual violence prevention program.

"We see really high rates of violence committed against LGBT folks, so having specific programming for LGBT individuals is a huge step forward for the community," he said.

Another reason Safe@Weber stood out is because of it's comprehensive nature. Bitton called it a "model program."

Safe@Weber offers sexual violence prevention programming, bystander intervention training and a myriad of non-confidential resources for assault survivors through the Women’s Center. 

All Weber State students are required to take an online Safe@Weber course, according to Standard-Examiner archives.

"They've created a program that is victim centered, that is focused on the needs of the person in the situation they're currently in and works with them," Bitton said.

This piece originally appeared in the Standard Examiner. Click here to read the original article. 

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BYU focuses on addressing sexual assault issues


BYU is observing National Sexual Assault Awareness Month for the first time since the Advisory Council conducted a self-study about sexual assault last summer.

A new Title IX Coordinator and Victim Advocate have been appointed since the sexual assault report that was published in October. This has created more awareness on campus about sexual assault, according to Women’s Services and Resources campaign specialist Madison Fullmer.

Fullmer, a recreation management major, works as the Campaign Specialist for Women’s Services and Resources. She said BYU students have responded more positively to the campaigns about sexual assault since this study was published.

“Students have been more open than they have in the past,” Fullmer said. “I think more than anything, students are just more accustomed to hearing about (sexual assault), and know that it is a real thing.”

As a result of the self-study, a report was published in October 2016 highlighting issues the school has with sexual assault and offering suggestions for change.

Among the most prominent of these changes was the appointment of Tiffany Turley as the new Title IX coordinator and Lisa Leavitt as a victim advocate at the beginning of the semester. These women have each had experiences that will help them make a difference at BYU as they interact with sexual assault victims and other members of the campus community.

Turley heads the Title IX office. She worked previously as the manager of Women’s Services and Resources for two years and also worked in various administrative positions for the Department of Workforce Services in Utah for several years.

“The underlying goal of our office is creating a really safe and healthy environment for our students here on campus,” Turley said.

Her volunteer involvement also prepared her for this position. Turley worked on many projects with the Rape Recovery Center and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She is also a certified sexual assault crisis counselor.

A Title IX coordinator position has existed at BYU for over five years, but this is the first year it is a unique position. Prior to this change, the Title IX coordinator had to juggle other positions and responsibilities. Now, Turley will be able to give more specific attention to sexual assault issues.3

The Title IX office also moved away from the Honor Code office to its own space in the Wilkinson Student Center. This change was made to emphasize the importance of the Title IX office and to help students feel more comfortable when they visit.

The BYU Advisory Council also created an entirely new victim advocate position. Lisa Leavitt, a licensed psychologist at BYU, is the first person to fill this position. She has worked for BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services for over 10 years and is a member of the Utah Sexual Assault Task Force.

Leavitt is excited to help BYU move forward in addressing the sexual assault problems on campus.

“I think they did a great job in the study of being pretty honest and addressing some really good solutions,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt said she is still learning many things about her new position, but her main responsibilities fall into three categories. First, she is an actual advocate for the students, helping them navigate the Title IX Process, getting them in touch with community resources or explaining their rights.

Second, Leavitt helps to educate professors, staff and other members of the campus community about her role and the processes that BYU has in place to deal with issues of sexual harassment or abuse.

Finally, she is a liaison between BYU and the community when it comes to available resources for sexual assault victims.

Sexual assault is not a problem unique to BYU. Universities across the country have the same issues. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates 20 to 25 percent of women in universities across the country are victims of sexual assault over the course of a college career.

The changes BYU is making show that the administrators are invested and taking the matter very seriously, according to Turley.

“The recommendations that we have been given through the self-study . . . will help fast forward us into an era where I see BYU actually being a leader,” Turley said.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Universe. Click here to read the original article.

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In our opinion: Utah must have zero tolerance for sexual violence

State health officials and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault are working on a program to educate people on how to intervene appropriately to prevent instances of sexual violence, which studies show will claim a large percentage of the population as victims. The thinking is that high rates of sexual aggression might be tapered if more people were made aware of just what constitutes a pattern of behavior that could lead to sexual violence, and what steps they might take to prevent it.

It is a worthwhile project that will hopefully lead to better awareness of a problem that persists even as we are in the process as a society of coming to grips with just how frequently sexual violence occurs. Education programs can only help speed that process.

Fortunately, we have moved past an age in which sexually oriented teasing or taunting was looked upon as harmless fun. We have become more aware of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, though it has been a painful process of coming to realize how common it is and how it has often gone undetected and unpunished. We are cognizant of the harm brought by instances of “sexting” and the spreading of sexually graphic material through social media — which also are forms of sexual violence. We have learned more about the integral role sexual violence plays in many cases of domestic abuse. We have bolstered prosecutorial efforts to attack sex trafficking. We are better versed on the nuances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Yet, despite all of this, the problem persists.

​The health department estimates that 1 in 3 women in Utah will experience a form of sexual violence during their lives. One in 8 women will be victims of rape, as will 1 in 50 men. The societal costs of sexual violence in Utah top $5 billion a year, associated with the costs of investigation and prosecution, treatment, related medical and psychological effects and general “pain, suffering and diminished quality of life that victims suffered,” according to the health department.

​Empowering people to step up and intervene when they see evidence of pending or ongoing sexual violence is an important approach, although it’s hardly a panacea. The health department has categorized various risk factors for the perpetration of sexual violence, which can offer warning signs. Studies reveal a strong correlation between perpetrators and substance abuse. Also, people who have witnessed or been victims of sexual violence are more prone to be violators themselves. Other risk factors include anti-social behavior and acts of hostility toward women. Studies have also pointed to influences in popular culture that seem to condone sexual aggressiveness.

​Those working with the health department and the coalition against sex assault believe understanding those risk factors and other dimensions of behavior will empower people to step forward to prevent violence or help a victim escape from a cycle of abuse. Just how effective that approach can be in practical terms is subject to conjecture. What is not in question, however, is that sexual violence remains a problem for which society should demand zero tolerance.

This piece originally appeared in the Deseret News. Click here to read the original article.

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Judge Who Praised Rapist Probably Isn’t Going Anywhere, Utah Officials Say

Utah judge who last week called a convicted rapist “an extraordinarily good man” as a victim sat in the courtroom won’t be booted from the bench any time soon, officials said.

State lawmakers say they’re unlikely to pursue disciplinary action against Utah Fourth District Judge Thomas Low, despite triggering a global outcry and dozens of complaints to Utah’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission calling for his resignation.

Utah State Sen. Todd Weiler (R), chair of the state’s Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, said he doesn’t believe the state legislature would find Low’s actions egregious enough to seek his impeachment.

“I’m not as outraged as I think some people are, but I am concerned what kind of message that might have sent to the victims because I would never want them to feel discounted in any way,” Weiler said.

Low came under intense scrutiny last Wednesday after offering a glowing character assessment of former Mormon bishop Keith Vallejo moments before sentencing him to five years to life in prison for sexually assaulting two women a few years ago.

“The court had no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man,” Low told the courtroom as he held back tears, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “But great men, sometimes do bad things.”


The judge sentenced Keith Vallejo to five years to life in prison for sexually assaulting two women several years ago.

Julia Kirby was 19 years old when Vallejo, her brother-in-law, sexually abused her in his house. She said it was “incredibly traumatic” to hear Low praise her attacker. 

“It’s not only been difficult to try and seek justice, but added on top of that, to have it kind of thrown back in my face and be told that the person who abused me is an ‘extraordinarily great person’ ... did cause a lot of emotional damage,” Kirby said. “It sends a message to victims that even in the justice system, where people are supposed to be the most unbiased, judges will take sides.”

Kirby said she plans to file a formal complaint against Low to the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission this week.

Low did not return The Huffington Post’s multiple requests for comment.

Utah has some of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the nation. It seems to me like these people in positions of power almost wear it as badge of honor.Mark Lawrence, Restore Our Humanity

The judge continued to hear cases this week as complaints to the state’s judicial oversight committee continued to trickle in.

Weiler, however, said he felt justice had been appropriately served and that the sentence itself was more important than the way Low delivered it.

He said he understands why Low’s remarks upset some people, but he believes they might simply be unaware of the “context” of the comments.

“[Low] received about 50 letters in support of that defendant,” Weiler said. “Many of the people who wrote those letters were in the courtroom, and I think the judge wanted to acknowledge the fact that he had read those letters and weighed those comments into consideration.”

Vallejo’s trial took place in Provo, Utah ― the heart of Mormon country, where at least 90 percent of the population are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mark Lawrence, the co-director of sexual abuse victims advocacy group Restore Our Humanity, said he “strongly” believes Low empathized with the former LDS bishop.

“What we saw this judge do is try to turn the perpetrator into the victim, and it’s not at all uncommon,” Lawrence said. “We just see these same patterns over and over, especially within the LDS Church. And it’s really disturbing.”


At least 90 percent of the population in Provo, Utah, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Kirby left the LDS church years ago, after discovering Vallejo had sexually abused another victim. She said the church’s legal representatives initially discouraged her from reporting her abuse, only offering her public support after one of her family members decided to report the assault to police.

The JCC could recommend the state’s Supreme Court issue sanctions against Low, but the proceedings are confidential and wouldn’t be made public until months from now if and when the commission decides to pursue formal action.

Restore Our Humanity filed a formal complaint to the JCC on Tuesday, but Lawrence said he isn’t expecting Low to be disbarred. He said he hoped the state’s Supreme Court would sanction him and that he would be encouraged to seek sensitivity training.

“[Utah judges] don’t know how to deal with survivors of sexual abuse,” Lawrence said. “Utah has some of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the nation. It seems to me like these people in positions of power almost wear it as badge of honor. Nobody’s doing anything about it.”

Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said more trauma-informed training is needed as well as a focus on diversifying the state’s largely white, male and Mormon judiciary, where there isn’t a single black, Hispanic or LGBT judge on the bench, and just 30 percent are women. 

A spokesman for the administrative office of the courts said Utah judges are expected to complete at least 30 hours of continuing legal education annually, but he wasn’t able to immediately determine if the required curriculum includes sexual violence trainings.

Voters may eventually decide Low’s fate on the bench, though he doesn’t face another retention election until 2020. Until then, Bitton hopes mounting public outcry will pressure Low and other judges to be more mindful of the potentially devastating impact their words and actions can have on victims of sexual assault.

“In sexual violence, there is a person whose bodily autonomy, whose sense of self, was taken away,” Bitton said. “Every time someone in a position of authority says something like this, it really perpetuates the rape culture that we have that makes victims responsible for the actions of their perpetrator. ... The signal this sends to victims is that ‘your assault wasn’t that bad because he was a nice guy.’”

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post. Click here to read the original article.

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